Early last month Google announced a major update to its Android Wear platform: iPhone support. With it, the Apple Watch ceased to be the only option available to Apple users (with Permission from Pebble), and companies such as ASUS, Huawei, Motorola and LG ran to present their first iOS compatible watches. Anything that translates into increasing our options will always seem like great news to us, but is it a real competition for the Apple Watch? What can Android Wear bring us?
To check it out, I contacted Google and a week later I received a small box with the answer to these questions, the LG Watch Urbane, some of the smartwatches with the best design that we can find today.
The background of the matter lies beyond the characteristics of a particular model, and my intention was always to perform a platform analysis for iOS users, not LG’s watch. Even so, hardware accounts for 50% of the equation and especially when it comes to wearables, the most tangible part is also one of those that conditions our purchasing decision to a greater extent.
Thus, the first and main advantage that Android Wear offers us is a lot of alternatives in terms of design that allow us to choose the watch that best suits our style. Round or square? Modern or classic? Only here the fan opens considerably more than with the apple clock; as much as Apple offers us three collections with different materials and straps to give and give away.
And the LG Watch Urbane couldn’t be any different. Externally we find a timeless-looking watch that doesn’t shout «geek!» at the four winds. It is made of stainless steel and the leather strap, of acceptable quality, offers a very pleasant touch. It features a 1.3-inch P-OLED circular display that sits among the best on the market and is dust and water resistant, supporting up to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes.
-A timeless-looking watch that doesn’t shout «geek!» at the four winds-
As for its autonomy, even with the screen on all day the watch always managed to reach its charging base with at least 20% battery, yes, every night. The only real catch you will put is the side button, not as solid as the rest of the set and with a rather questionable utility beyond contributing to the illusion that it is a watch like those of a lifetime.
Android Wear for iOS is all you need to get started. Download it for free from the App Store and start a simple setup process to pair your watch with your iPhone. As expected, we need to give you a series of permissions so that everything can work properly, including Bluetooth to maintain communication with the watch even if we are not using the app, notifications, our location, access to the calendar, log in to our Google account…
Something long, but nothing insurmountable. The app enlivens the process with very clear and colorful screens, and a quick video-tutorial that instructs us on the possibilities of the watch. As you can see, in terms of design it will be more familiar to Android users, but if you are used to using other Google apps for iOS it will not come as much surprise.
After this configuration we reach the end the main screen of the app, crowned by an image of the watch that we have linked followed by a first section from which we can change the design of its dial, from the most modern and minimalist to others that , again, they strive to maintain the classic look by resorting to even metallic reflections animated by wrist movement.
This section also allows us to download and install additional spheres from a small selection made by the Mountain View company. Neither all are all that are nor are they all that are, but in the absence of a direct access to the Play Store, this mini store fulfills its task and presumably will grow over time.
Going back to the main screen and continuing our block-by-block descent, we come across an absence from the Android app that irretrievably slams out the final rating. No, Android Wear for iOS does not support third-party apps so the section to manage and install them to the watch is replaced by a block with Tips.
Apple’s policies specifically prohibit apps that install or launch executable code other than yours, but if Peeble has managed to get out of those quicksand so that we can install watchapps on your watch, I think Google will also end up achieving it. At the end of the day, it’s not an iOS-compatible executable, but as long as they’re cleared between them, the truth is that the main source of clock functionality is cut out.
Leaving the theme for later, the rest of the Android Wear app for iOS basically consists of settings specific to each watch, such as options to keep the screen always on or activate it with a wrist twist, and the settings of the Google Now cards, blocked notifications and apps. In addition, we can have Android Wear ignore notifications from any other email app in favor of advanced Gmail cards, which allow us to archive and reply to emails directly from our wrist.
Android Wear + iPhone
We’ve set everything up. We have the iPhone in our pocket and the LG Watch Urbane on our wrist. Now what? Well, not much really. Apart from showing the time, the watch basically has three other functions: notifications, Google Now and Google Fit.
Notifications appear as cards at the bottom through which we can move by swiping or ignoring them to the right. A gesture in the opposite direction shows available actions, although usually the only option is to block the application so that it doesn’t bother us anymore.
It’s certainly a little frustrating to receive messages (not only from iMessage without also from Hangout) and not being able to answer from the clock, but what’s worse are the calls. When we receive one we can cover the watch screen to mute it or press a button to hang up, but if we press answer, the call starts… on the phone, yes, the same one we have in our pocket. You’re left with a fun face when you understand what happens after you yell at the clock for 30 seconds without getting an answer on the other side of the line.
With Gmail, things are different. As mentioned earlier, it is possible to reply emails in two different ways: by voice, or by tapping an emoji for Google to show us some suggestions about what we are trying to say. The first works well although it is not exactly discrete while the second one is only of some help for very specific answers of the type «Vale», «I don’t like it» or «Fun».
With notifications taking up 60-70% of the lead, Google Now is definitely the one claiming the rest. Through you we receive notices with traffic information, weather forecast or calendar (google) reminders. We can also say «Ok Google» to ask questions such as «When Blas de Lezo died?» , set reminders such as «Go to doctor at 17:00» or open the (few) applications of the watch to set an alarm or start the stopwatch.
These apps, by the way, are in their own column, being accessible by making a gesture to the left from the watch face. And by ending up with the gestures, we have another one from above to see information such as the date or the remaining battery and access the clock settings. I must confess that although Google was on the right track opting for a simple interface for Android Wear, in general all these combinations of gestures are a little stuck with shoes and on more than one occasion I have found myself considering if so much pulsation, Swipe, swipe, tap, swipe is no more farcical and slow than taking the phone out of your pocket in the first place.
-one of the most recurrent selling grounds of the «wearables* are its applications to help us improve our fitness-
Finally, one of the most recurrent selling arguments of wearables is their applications to help us improve our fitness. Android Wear meets the basics, allowing us to set goals for rides and races and tracking our daily and weekly progress. We can also measure our pulses (at will, not automatically) but I always had the feeling that their results ranged too much to trust them. In addition, Android Wear is not compatible with Apple’s HealthKit, so we are forced to use Google Fit instead, an alternative that does not have an app for iOS.